Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mary, marriage, and being Protestant...beginnings of thoughts.

I don't have any great insights here, but I've lately had a couple different occasions to think about Protestant women in history and what it means to be a Protestant woman today. And I'm using "Protestant" advisedly versus, say, "evangelical" or just "Christian."

For one, my husband recently participated in a men's retreat that focused on the masculinity of Jesus and in what ways it's applicable to Christian men today. I am not very familiar with the world of women's ministry, I admit. But much of what I've come across under the category of "biblical womanhood" takes Paul as the starting-point, and while that's good, I wonder if there are books out there, or if there've been retreats/conferences, that focus on women in the New Testament and how they are models for us (or not)? Specifically Mary. It seems one does hear a lot about Mary and Martha of Bethany, but I'm having a harder time calling to mind materials that focus on our Lord's mother. And actually, I think it would be very interesting to look at the figure of Mary from a particularly Protestant perspective, and how she might speak to our lives of faith. I don't doubt there is much that could be said (and perhaps has been). Like I said, I'm not familiar enough to know.

Of course, it's a little different because, well, no woman in Scripture lived her life without sin. But whether we're women or men, we have Christ to look to for that...

I won't say I don't have more questions about it all. This gender stuff does get complicated.


Speaking of, in seminar today, we were discussing Luther's writings on marriage and early modern views of gender more broadly construed. This is not my major period of study, but the recent "scholarly consensus" seems to be that the Protestant Reformation was a raw deal for the ladies. That is, the Reformers took away devotion to Mary and other female saints, and they got rid of convents, where women could exercise certain degrees of autonomy and leadership and had the choice not to marry and bear children. By contrast, the domestic household and Protestant churches offered relatively few options and leadership roles for women. Needless to say, I have some...quibbles with this thesis. Most of them, I suspect, wouldn't tend to be taken very seriously. And, as I said, this is not the era I primarily study, and I don't have the energy to do a big project on women in the early generations of Reformers. But it almost makes me wish I did.


  1. Interesting! There was a book called Captivating that sort of touches on Biblical women beyond the Mary and Martha story but ... I don't know enough about theology to say for sure but the book struck me as somewhat fuzzy. I did like how it talked about how some churches (often accidentally) use things like Proverbs 31 as a measure you'll never live up to instead of a celebration of all the things women can contribute.

    I've been involved with many different ministries aimed at women and most of the time it's how to be a better mother, a better wife, a better family member, but there is rarely focus on how to be an individual searching God's own heart, if that makes sense. It seems like men get more of the message that they are disciples first, and everything else flows from that, whereas women hear about how serving everyone else is also serving God. Which it is, but it's like we get told a lot to be Martha, when Mary should be the goal.

    Whew! I guess I had a lot to say about that. :)
    I really like my current women's Bible study because we're simply focusing on the miracles of Jesus, not about specifically being women and what that means.


  2. I have such mixed feelings about men's groups on Jesus's masculinity. On the one hand, positive models of being male are important in this culture. On the other hand, while there was a lot of cultural efficacy to Jesus being incarnated in a way that was read as male by the culture at the time, The Body of Christ contains ALL genders -- and I feel frustrated by the idea that men have a particular access to modeling themselves on Jesus that women don't (though yes, Jesus was operating from a position of male privilege, so that *is* a way in which Jesus-as-male is particularly useful to men). Ugh, balancing the importance of particularities with the fact that particularities can also function to distance those who don't share those particularities (see, for example, my best friend's lesbian christology) is complicated.

  3. @Jenn,
    it's like we get told a lot to be Martha, when Mary should be the goal.
    Exactly! I think that's a piece of what I was trying to get at here.
    Thanks for your input; it always gives me something to think about. :)

    @Elizabeth, I think the question of whether men can model themselves on Jesus in a way that women can't is one of the questions I was asking-without-really-asking with this post. I don't know exactly what to do with it. I do know that the "Christ beyond gender and history" takes speculative leaps that are far more troubling for me than any of the above.

  4. I did half of a study on Esther by Beth Moore (my home situation with the kids coming forced me to be done early, but it was great.) Esther really had an important leadership role, and she is rewarded by God for stepping out of her "defined place" in the social order.

    Also, I read the book Captivating too. I intend on reading it again since it has been so long. It really is great.